Opponents of Munjoy Hill condo project take their fight to City Hall

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Troy captured some beautiful shots along the water today.

What we’re talking about

Portlanders anxious over a proposed condo project that they fear would block views from a Munjoy Hill park are asking the city to step in.

Opponents of developer Bernie Saunier’s early plans to build a six-story condo project below Fort Sumner Park this evening plan to present petitions with several hundred signatures asking city leaders to preserve the view from Fort Sumner Park. Saunier has not yet officially proposed the project to the city.

Meanwhile, a handful of residents who submitted a letter to the city demanding the park be given historic site protections — which could force changes in the building plan — will have the opportunity on Wednesday to make their case to the municipal board.

“We would like to see the magnificent view preserved in its entirety, the experience of visiting it undiminished, and signage providing the Fort’s history and points of interest in the view located in the park,” states the Sept. 1 letter, which was first reported by the Press Herald.

Concern with the building comes from residents of Munjoy Hill, who have seen swift changes to their neighborhood in recent years. In 2015, worries about the rapid development crystallized in a failed citywide referendum attempting to stop construction of a building on Fore Street that obscures some people’s water views. But one petitioner said that resistance to the Sheridan Street project is about preserving a public good, not fighting development generally or saving certain individuals’ views.

“My motivation was and is a love of the Hill and the views from that park,” said Carolyn Young, who has been collecting signatures from people worried about the project. “We want the developer to honor the people who live here.”

Three hundred people signed a petition asking city government to “ensure the development of 155 Sheridan St. not have an undue adverse effect on any portion of the preservation of Fort Sumner Park’s sweeping panoramic views,” according to Young. And another petition was circulated by Paula Agopian, who said she gathered 97 signatures. Both women began seeking signatures in early August and intend to present the petitions to the council tonight.

The developer, Saunier, has been meeting with city and neighborhood leaders over the last month as interest groups seek a compromise. So far, they have not been successful. The process does not become public until a site plan is officially submitted to the city.

But the potential roadblocks being thrown ahead of this project might make other developers wary of seeking community input before submitting building plans, according to a real estate lawyer consulting with Saunier for the Sheridan Street project.

“To the extent [that] those not directly involved reactively seek to burden the site with additional regulatory requirements without understanding the project’s evolution first it will signal to the larger development community that proactive consensus building can backfire — which would be unfortunate,” said Patrick Venne.

Saunier is expected to present a revised proposal to several city officials in a private meeting this week. — Jake Bleiberg



Rising seas, bigger storms threaten sewer plants — From Craig Idlebrook, writing for the Island Institute:

There may be no national political consensus on climate change, but rising sea levels and fiercer storms are already causing headaches for local officials along Maine’s waterways. Many communities are now discussing how to pay to protect wastewater infrastructure.

After denying it misused millions in welfare funds, Maine changed its spending to follow the law — After Matt Stone broke the news in June that the Department of Health and Human Services had improperly allocated federal funds for a use other than how they were intended, the agency denied wrongdoing. Its commissioner, Mary Mayhew, went so far as to say, “The BDN has their facts wrong.”

Here’s the gist of Matt’s latest story, posted today:

The LePage administration has reversed a $7.8 million transfer of grant funds that ran afoul of federal law, after the BDN reported on the spending of federal welfare assistance dollars in June.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services used the funds in 2015 to pay for services for seniors and residents with disabilities even though federal law restricted the use of those funds to services for children and their families. …

[I]n early August, Maine DHHS retroactively amended documents it submitted to the federal government months earlier detailing the state’s spending under two federal grant programs in federal fiscal year 2015, which ended Sept. 30, 2015. The amended documents deleted the transfer of funds between grant accounts that paid for services not allowed under the law.

By the way, DHHS — whose budget accounts for more than a third of state spending — has not responded to a request for comment from the BDN since early this summer.

‘Exports from southern Maine on the rise’ — Penelope Overton writes:

A spike in aircraft turbines and semiconductor manufacturing helped the Portland metro area grow its exports by more than 8 percent in 2015, making it the fastest-growing billion-dollar-plus exporting region in New England, according to newly released federal data.

The Big Idea

Paper mills are closing, but Maine’s economy still relies on logging — Darren Fishell reports:

Bath Iron Works’ loss of a crucial contract last week casts a pall over more than 1,000 shipbuilding jobs in Maine. But another traditional industry argues it still has a bright future in the state, no matter the headlines.

Logging has big potential ahead, “despite the steady drumbeat of doom and gloom in media reports suggesting Maine should move on from its forest-based heritage,” the industry’s top representative, Dana Doran, wrote in a recent report.

Even with the fall of Maine paper mills, the state relies more on the logging industry for jobs than any other place in the country.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

As always, like BDN Portland on Facebook for more local coverage.


Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.